A older noblewoman had once given Mithian this invaluable advice: “The first rule of a good dalliance is don’t get caught. The second rule is to choose as you would a horse, and get something with strong flanks and good teeth.”
It was with this advice in mind, and a chewy bit of rabbit in her mouth, that Mithian decided to take Sir Percival to bed.
He sat at her left elbow, gigantic and golden. Mithian had spent the last half hour leaning forward and craning her neck to make it appear that she was listening to Queen Guinevere and Sir Leon’s conversation, but really she wanted to better observe how the veins rippled in Percival’s forearms as he dismantled his chicken.
“I take your point,” said the Queen. Percival bit down on hunk of meat, and the juices left a shine on his bottom lip. “But they have invested much in this alliance. Our negotiations with them have been going on since Arthur died, after all.”
Leon was nodding emphatically. ”Yes, precisely. For years. So why has it taken them so long to come here?”
Leon’s gaze swept around the table, probably looking for someone to agree with him. Mithian hurried to look away—she was busy tonight, she hadn’t the time to mediate Gwen and Leon’s debates—and accidentally locked eyes with Percival. His lips tilted up in a sociable smile. She returned it, and took up her wine goblet to hide her face.
Percival was not her ideal, to be sure. Too brawny to be properly beautiful and too low-born to be truly witty. But his teeth were good, and his flanks were…well. They spoke for themselves.
Still. Mithian imagined that she could detect his peasant roots in some of his mannerisms. He was genteel enough at the table. And honorable in battle, it was said. But perhaps there was something a little vulgar about the way he gripped his goblet. He made a fist around the handle. Perhaps he’d grip her similarly.
Mithian began working up a pleasant fantasy about Percival coming out of the fields, muddy, naked to the waist, sort of a red-bronze color from all the sun. He might greet her at the door of a barn and then turn her over a haystack.
Gwen’s voice cut through her thoughts: “You met with the Druid priestesses today, Princess Mithian, did you not?”
“I did,” Mithian managed. She fervently hoped there was no follow-up question, because Mithian’s mind was rather stuck on the imagined sensation of being fucked like an animal.
Gwen lifted her glass and smiled slyly. “You see, Leon? It’s not that they don’t want to meet with you. It’s that they prefer meeting with other women. No gallant knights to distract them from the task at hand.”
It was odd, watching Leon blink and then stutter and then hide his smile in his hand. Yet again, Gwen and Leon’s courtship inched forward, achingly slow, and tonight it gave Mithian a wrench of jealousy. How sweet it must be, to be loved by an equal.
“What did you think of them? The priestesses?” Percival asked next to her.
Mithian blinked, and sucked in a breath. Percival gazed at her steadily.
“They are…evasive. Their intentions to ally with Camelot seem genuine, but they refuse to answer questions about magic.”
Percival took this in, nodding once, his brow furrowing just a little. Mithian waited for him to make some reply, but he didn’t, just took another bite of chicken. It was disappointing. She wondered if he knew the word “evasive.”
Mithian had made a decision, though, so she waited until their dinner companions began to disband, turned to Sir Percival, and said quietly, “I will retire. Will you escort me to my rooms?”
He looked at her. Mithian couldn’t tell from his face whether he understood the implication. “Of course.”
The walk to her rooms felt unnaturally long, but she remembered why she wanted this. Percival’s forearm was large and warm under hers, and he had to lean sideaways a bit to keep it low enough for her.
As they rounded the corner and came to a stop at her door, she started to worry that she’d have to ask him out loud, with words, to come in.
She swallowed. “Would you care for some wine?” Surely that was direct enough.
He shook his head.
Mithian could feel her mouth pursing. “All right. Well—” But he leant down smoothly, and his mouth touched hers in a soft kiss. His lips were dry and almost scraped.
“Like this,” she whispered, and clasped his jaw in one hand. He followed the pressure of her fingers and tilted his head where she wanted it, and the kiss turned firm, the tip of his tongue snaking into her mouth after a few moments.
It was shockingly pleasurable, Percival’s slow and easy kissing, and when he finally leaned up and away, she went up on her toes to chase after his lips. He was looking over her shoulder, and she became belatedly aware of the sound of footsteps down the corridor. Mithian shoved open the door and dragged him in.
He smiled at her as the footsteps passed by her door, his body all relaxed and still. Mithian’s brow wrinkled at him, confused. She was starting to have trouble imagining him throwing someone over a haystack.
“You don’t talk much, do you?”
He shrugged easily. “I like to listen.”
“Because women like the strong, silent type?”
“Because people say interesting things.”
Mithian’s eyes dropped to the floor, abashed. She’d spent the evening staring at his arms. “We’ve hardly exchanged twenty words tonight.”
“You’re not especially talkative.”
“Yet you think I’m interesting.”
Percival was still smiling at her. He ambled over to her table and canted his hip against it. “Some people talk because they’re good at it, or they like it. You only spoke when you had something to say. I like that. It means what you don’t say is just as important as what you do.”
The shame of having so completely mis-understood him worked its way through her body, but she breathed through it, let this new knowledge settle into her, and watched the way his eyes caught on her breasts as he took her in.
She held his eye and reached back to loosen her stays. Percival straightened and shucked off his gambeson—thank god he wasn’t wearing full armor—and kept eye contact with her as he did it, his gaze gentle and appreciative.
There had been a third rule, in the old woman’s advice: always pick one who won’t leave you to ruin, should the worst happen. Mithian had never been sure whether she was referring to getting caught or getting pregnant, but it was all the same in the end. She had always considered Percival good enough in that regard. He had been chosen and knighted by Arthur, after all. But now she wondered whether he might be better than just good enough.
“Touch me,” she said, as her dress slipped off. He kissed her deeply, and then, straightening up out of his awkward lean, took hold her of thighs and lifted her. Her legs parted around his body, and she let loose a surprised "Oh" against his ear. With their faces suddenly at equal heights, she took the opportunity to hold his head in her hands and teach him how to kiss her. He was much, much better than just good enough.